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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

R.I.P. Dear Bruno

This week we lost Bruno, our beloved, Springer spaniel, formerly of the Daisy and Bruno sibling duo.
I say “we lost Bruno” because that seems to be the locution people use. I am not very comfortable with the expression, though I much prefer it to smarmily mystical “he passed.”
We didn’t actually lose Bruno. We never misplaced him. At all times we knew where he was. Bruno died. Bruno is dead and buried.


A few months ago Bruno started acting sick, and then sicker and sicker. We went to see Alan, our vet, but there was nothing obviously wrong, except the depredations of old age: arthritis, cataracts, deafness, incontinence. Possibly dementia, but how can you tell with a sweet dog?
We discussed euthanasia, but we didn’t think Bruno was ready. More honestly, we were not ready. Then I got a letter from our vet that he was retiring in Mid-May. Alan had been Bruno’s loyal caregiver since his fraught puppy years, and we’d always assumed he would be there with Bruno at the end.
So now we had a logistical problem compounded by a moral dilemma, admixed with all the emotional perturbation. If we wanted Bruno to be euthanized by Alan, whom he knows, then we had to do it sooner rather than later; because once Alan retired he would no longer have access to “controlled substances”. I hinted at the possibility of just maybe possibly hanging onto some ‘controlled substance’, for this very eventuality. Alan was clearly going to be strict about this, and who could blame him?

So Alan retired, and Bruno lived on, after his fashion.
During the heat wave last week he had a seizure. I was sitting with him on the kitchen floor. I tried to hold still his spasming legs. I stroked his head and back. Was that even the right thing to do? I told him I loved him. We comforted him. I figured that, whatever else, this was the end, or the beginning of the end, and there would be no annoying car rides to see a new and strange vet. We would make him as comfortable as we could, and let him go on his own.
But for two more days, Bruno held on. Mostly unmoving. He didn’t eat and only took the water that I spooned into his mouth. We kept him cool, or warm, and talked to him. Yet he kept on, and his pain became palpable. A friend recommended a local holistic vet who made house calls, and we called, and to my surprise, she came that afternoon. She affirmed that Bruno was indeed dying of kidney failure, and should have been dead days ago. But he has a strong heart, she said. A remarkable strong heart. I blubbered. Of course, I thought. He was all heart. He was not especially brainy, and he was certainly mild-mannered and always was beta to his sister’s alpha-ness. He didn’t like to swim and he, unlike his sister, he never caught any rodents. Neither did he ever bark or jump, or scare anyone at all. He let the grandchildren climb all over him. He was beloved. He had a strong heart.

From his early days, there was something miraculous about Bruno.


Back in 2003, demented with the flush of new love and domesticity, CSB and I decided to we needed to get a dog. Together. I studied books of dog breeds more diligently than I had ever studied history, and I really like history. When the children were young, we had two bulldogs and both died prematurely: one from craziness and one from congenital health issues. Much as I had loved those bulldogs, with their placid temperament, their extraordinary beauty and whimsical body odor, this time around I wanted a normal healthy dog. I wanted an ordinary dog without health or emotional complications. We heard that a local breeder had a litter of Springer spaniels he was selling, so we went to see them.
For reasons that still escape me, we came home with two puppies instead of one, a brother and a sister, littermates.
Because there were two the naming options multiplied. CSB liked Nip and Tuck. Our friend David suggested Cha-Cha and Hummer. Tristram had the idea of serial numbers, and barring that, Anthrax and Arsenic. I was heavily into hagiography at the time, so I lobbied, unsuccessfully, for Benedict and Scholastic (yes, they were siblings too.) Also being a Trollopian, I suggested Dandy and Flirt, for Lady Glencora’s matching ponies.

We named them Daisy and Bruno, because CSB considered Daisy to be an unfussy dog’s name, and Saint Bruno founded the great Carthusian order, devoted to silence and solitude. I thought the name Bruno would endow Bruno the dog with the necessary fortitude to balance Daisy’s alpha-ferocity.

Being puppies they were incredibly cute. Possibly the cutest puppies that ever graced this planet.

One by one, all the grandchildren came to know him and love him. They loved Daisy too, mostly, but she was so very alpha, and prone to jump. She was the born hunter, and produced the rodents and avians to prove it. She was a natural swimmer and Olympic diver. Bruno eschewed the water. Like Ferdinand, he liked to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers.
He let the children do whatever they liked. He slept under our bed. He never chased the chickens. He slept under the dining table while we ate, and under my desk while I worked. He was endlessly patient. He laughed at my attempts at humor, sometimes even let me cut out the hairballs on his beautiful floppy ears.

We miss him.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Another quiz. This one could even be designated as educational.

Can you match the portraits of these women in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery with their names?
One hint: there are no First Ladies included.
Here are the portraits.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
Here are their names. For extra credit, you can name the artists.
a. Alice Neel
b. Eudora Welty
c. Lynne Fontanne
d. Betty Friedan
e. Martha Graham
f. Marisol
g. Kah-béck-a, The Twin
h. Marianna Moore and her mother
i. Margaret Sanger
j. Libyan Sibyl

There will be another quiz very soon. And yes, there will be prizes.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I write Fiction: I can't Believe I have to March for Science.

But march we did. In the rain. Along with some wise words from Emily Dickinson. (See below, held aloft by CSB)
Here we are, and some of our favorite signs. It was remarkable how many signs referred to the science of hair implantation/ enhancement.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Slime: not all that easy

I assumed making slime would be easy.
Actually, I never gave it a thought.

Leda, delightful ten-year-old granddaughter from Brooklyn was staying with us, and Monday afternoon I discovered her at my computer studying YOU TUBE videos for DIY Slime. There are many many said videos. They all avow their recipe to be easy. And they all seem to be narrated and produced by children, in some cases very young children. Leda and I agreed that following recipes devised by children half her age was probably not a great idea.
Many of them assert that their recipe can create slime without borax. Borax is the sine qua non of slime, but it is also the peanut allergy of slime.
The slime on the YOU TUBE videos appears in many different colors, exquisite shades of green or blue or purple. Leda wanted to make purple slime. She informed me that purple is her favorite color, and even if it is girlie, she doesn’t care.
I said that purple couldn’t be that girlie if is the color worn by Catholic cardinals. And popes.

We watched the videos together, and then we tried various combinations of shaving cream, contact lens solution, glue sticks, Elmer’s glue, shower gel soap, laundry soap, dish soap, and salt. Squashing glue sticks with a fork is harder than you would think, and then the glue gets stuck in the tines. We varied the amounts and rations when the indicated amounts failed to produce slime. We stirred fast with a spoon, then a toothpick, then a chopstick, then a whisk. We put the soap and salt solution in the freezer for the allotted time.
watched many videos, and followed the instructions faithfully. But time and again, we did not produce slime.
Later, Leda pointed out, “Nana, they can photo-shop those videos.”
“That would be cheating,” I said.
Leda rolled her eyes.
“I was really looking forward to that slime,” I said. And it was true.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More lost garments. Any claimants?


Can you match the lost item with the place where it was found?


1. a. A third world country known for dentistry.
2. b. The DPW
3. c. A lonely place, a desolate place, a place far from the madding crowd, yet full of personal demons.
4. d. A classified secure location.
5. e. Old Croton Aqueduct, mile 18.
6. f. The road well travelled.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A clipping service moves into the 22nd century

My mother has always been a world-class clipping service. For years her family and friends could expect to receive regular infusions of articles on topics of presumed interest.

I don’t know when she started sending articles about all things papal to her school friend Joan, in California. Joan and Mom were schoolmates at St Anthony’s in Long Beach, California, during WW2; my grandfather had returned to Egypt and the rest of the family waited for the war to end so they could join him. Later Joan became a nun, a modern social-working nun, but still very much a Catholic, and so of course my mother assumed she would want to keep abreast of news about the pope, any pope. When questioned about this many years ago, my mother asserted that newspapers in California did not cover news about the pope. Not ever. Never. I argued with her about this, pointlessly. I no longer argue with her.
Over the years, my mother has sent her brother hundreds, possibly thousands, of articles referencing Egypt. She sent her nephew anything about Elizabeth Warren. She sent me anything to do with honeybees, or saints. She sent my brother articles about the environment. I could go on.

So the current incarnation of her clipping service is not a complete stretch. Last fall she asked me if I knew Hillary Clinton. I had to admit that I did not personally know her. But I knew someone who did. Then she handed me a manila envelope stuffed with articles, mostly from the NY Times, about Hillary and her run for president, and asked me to deliver it. I said I would.
Earlier this week she handed me two bundles, and asked me to send them to “that woman over there”.

Of course I said I would make sure she received the articles. What else could I have said?
I could have wept, it is true.
My mother was never an Anglophile. Like her Belgian relatives, she is, or was, an anti-monarchist. But she delivered to me two packages filled with articles about Brexit and its implications, both addressed to the Queen of England.
Package number one contained 7 articles from the New York Times, dated from February to December 2016. There were 3 articles from the Economist, one from the Boston Globe, and one from This Week. Also in that package, addressed to the Queen of England, were a letter from her Belgian niece (first cousin once removed?), dated February 2017; a postcard, featuring a painting by Gustave Moreau of a peacock and Juno, from the same Belgian niece dated, November 2016; and an undated note from someone named Judy, relating the recent death of her sister-in-law.
Package number two likewise contained fourteen articles about Brexit and or Theresa May or both, clipped from the New York Times. And a receipt from The Cloisters gift shop.
How can I not find this phenomenon fascinating? My mother has no idea what or who Brexit is. She cannot name the queen. Yet she clipped these many articles, and in several cases, underlined them. Even as Alzheimer’s is wreaking havoc with her mind and memory, there remains a tattered relic of the impulse to gather evidence and to impart information.

But why Brexit? Why not the Syrian crisis, or Bolivian devaluation, or Marine le Pen? Why the Queen?

A few comments on the Whitney Biennial

There is much to admire, and much to scratch your head over, at this year’s Whitney Biennial. And I am a firm believer in head-scratching, even more than admiration. (But first I had to learn that it is spelled biennial, not biennale, as I have been doing for the past few decades. Apparently, it is never too late to learn how to spell something.)

If you have any inner ear issues, or a tendency to mal de mer, I would strongly suggest steering clear of the Virtual Reality piece. A sign warns you about the ‘graphic violence’, but I never got as far as the violence because the nausea kicked in.
If you, like my daughter, have a pathological aversion to clowns and mines, you can skip the performance piece, “Liberty” on the rooftop terrace.
Several pieces (well, at least two), seem to be bathroom themed: shower heads and colored tiles.
And then there is the wall of baloney.
In one room full of trees, a young man sat on a plywood box wearing a headpiece constructed from twigs, paper, wire and otherwise random leafy bits. One of the planters had a spirometer lying cockeyed in the dirt. (I took the occasion to explain the post-surgical use of the spirometer to a very uninterested bystander.) Occasionally, the young man gets up to speak about trees and bark, and he seemed very amiable. As museum jobs go, his seems quite pleasant.
Here is a painting I liked.

And this is a photo of sugar cane fields burning. The blue rectangle is from across the way. It has nothing to do with the sugar cane aflame.


My favorite pieces were identical wooden grids, carved by Matt Browning of Seattle, out of single blocks of wood. They appear to be interlocked, as in a chain, but look more closely and you see that there are no seams. They cannot be unlocked. Or undone. Or even explained.